Growing up north of Auckland, Greg Heathcote was a fan of old Hollywood movies. Fresh from Orewa College, he applied for a job at TVNZ's Shortland Street studios as a technical trainee, and got the nod. His first television experience was in the early 1980s in light entertainment, working as a camera assistant on popular cooking and comedy show Hudson and Halls, and as a boom swinger on The Billy T James Show. The trainee gig also saw him gaining experience in the news and sport departments.
By 1987 Heathcote had graduated to working as a technical director, which involved overseeing the lighting on studio shows like 3.45 Live, as well as long hours in TV2's presentation suite (where shows and commercials are put on-air). Four years later he transferred to be a TVNZ staff editor, which involved cutting on prime time shows Moro Sports Extra and Mountain Dew on The Edge. The shows introduced Heathcote to Julie Christie, a young external producer who had crossed over into television from print journalism.
A few years after Christie launched her own company, Touchdown Productions, Heathcote clashed with his then boss at TVNZ over editing technology. Heathcote argued that non-linear editing — where computers made it easier to store and edit footage — was the future of television production. He remembers being told "it was just a fad", and decided it was time to move on. The next day he bought some Avid editing software, and within a month he was working for Christie at Touchdown. Within a few years, he was a full partner, owning a share of the company.
What supercharged Touchdown was the local version of British ‘makeover’ show Changing Rooms. Touchdown was the first production company outside the United Kingdom to take up the concept, which threw it suddenly into the format business.
After a successful run adapting overseas formats like Ready, Steady Cook, Ground Force and Police Stop!, Touchdown began inventing their own formats and selling them to the world. High pressure game show The Chair became one of the company's most successful TV exports — but there was also Treasure Island, Total Recall and DIY Rescue, each created in New Zealand and sold globally.
Heathcote's behind the scenes experience proved valuable as the company's output expanded. He went from being Touchdown's only editor to post-production producer, then Head of Post-Production and Head of Production. Heathcote was also series producer on reality shows like Miss Popularity and the genre-stretching Living the Dream.
In April 2006, impressed by their international sales success, Dutch production company Eyeworks purchased Touchdown, and it became one of eight companies worldwide to be commanded from Holland.
For eight years Heathcote produced and directed shows like First Crossing, New Zealand's Hottest Home Baker, and Shock Treatment, and Qantas award-winner One Land. He also worked in Australia for channel 9 on You Saved My Life, Kalgoorlie Cops and culture shock show Ticket To The Tribes, which saw Australian families living in remote tribes.
Such shows provided a host of adventures. "Heading up the Amazon River in a small boat in search of a giant anaconda, driving cross-country in Mongolia in an ex Russian army four-wheel drive, and living in the Namibian desert for a month each were all adventures I could never have dreamed about."
Eyeworks produced a few scripted shows in this time, but none enjoyed the success of the company's reality and factual formats. Eventually Heathcote became executive producer for all of Eyeworks' shows.
In 2012 Julie Christie asked Heathcote to take over as Managing Director of Eyeworks New Zealand. In June 2014, Eyeworks was acquired by global giant Warner Brothers.
By this time reality television was dominating weeknight television. Heathcote became executive producer (and occasional director) of highly publicised shows which featured on both networks. On TV3 there was ratings juggernaut The Block, dating show The Bachelor, and the sometimes controversial Married at First Sight. For TVNZ Heathcote oversaw Kiwi versions of Survivor and Project Runway, plus Our First Home, The Great Kiwi Bake Off, The Bachelorette and the 2019 reboot of Celebrity Treasure Island.
In 2018 Heathcote was executive producer for All Blacks — All or Nothing. Narrated by Taika Waititi, the series provided behind the scenes footage of New Zealand’s most successful sporting franchise. It also marked Warner Brothers NZ’s first streaming commission (from Amazon TV).
Heathcote has introduced more original drama and comedy into the mix. In 2018 black comedy Fresh Eggs won good reviews, plus seven nominations at the 2019 NZ Film and Television Awards. In 2019 filming began on Black Hands. Based on a popular 2017 podcast, the series dramatises the days leading up to the infamous 1994 Bain family murders in Dunedin.
Profile written by Gabe McDonnell; published on 28 February 2020
Warner Brothers International Television Production website. Accessed 12 June 2020
Cynthis Littleton, 'Warner Bros' Sets $273 Million Deal To Buy Eyeworks' International TV Operations' - Variety, 11 February 2014
Unknown writer, 'Julie Christie quits Eyeworks' - The NZ Herald, 31 October 2012
'Telling Our Stories – unique NZ dramas headed for our screens' (Press release) NZ On Air website. Loaded 27 September 2019. Accessed 28 February 2020